Tampa Bay 34, Atlanta 10

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TAMPA, FLORIDA (TICKER) —It wasn’t a knockout this time, but Michael Vick was pummeled again by the NFL’s best defense.

Five-time Pro Bowl linebacker Derrick Brooks shadowed Vick throughout and Brad Johnson passed for four touchdowns, two each to Joe Jurevicius and Keenan McCardell, to lead the Tampa Bay Buccaneers to a 34-10 rout of the Atlanta Falcons.

The Buccaneers (10-3), who were the last team to beat the Falcons (8-4-1) on October 6, snapped Atlanta’s eight-game unbeaten streak and increased their lead in the NFC South.

“All the talk all week has been ‘How do you stop Michael Vick?’ And we respect him immensely,” Tampa Bay coach Jon Gruden said. “But I didn’t hear anybody in America say ‘How he’s going to go up against this defense?’ We’ve been playing pretty good here. Our defense has been disciplined all season. We have explosive, athletic playmakers (on defense).”

Vick was knocked out in the third quarter of the October 6 loss to Tampa Bay with a sprained non-throwing shoulder after completing 4-of-12 passes for 37 yards and rushing for just one yard. The rematch wasn’t much better for the league’s fastest quarterback.

Vick’s fancy footwork was once again negated by Tampa Bay’s speed on defense. Leading his team with 648 rushing yards entering the game, Vick was held to 15 yards on five scrambles and completed just 12-of-25 passes for 125 yards and a touchdown with an interception.

“There was nothing I could do. They kept me contained,” said Vick, who rushed for 173 yards and two touchdowns last week at Minnesota. “They have speed that other teams don’t have. When you have a defense with guys that can move around and can run just as fast as the guys you have on offense, you are going to have to fight for everything you can get.”

Brooks is the NFL’s premier cover linebacker and is often assigned to guarding running backs and tight ends. But Bucs defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin used Brooks to shadow Vick and played his other linebackers close to the line of scrimmage to prevent the quarterback from finding any gaps to run through.

“We needed eight guys in the box to contain Vick and that’s what we did,” Kiffin said. “We disguised our coverages well and they didn’t adjust to it.”

In the first half alone, Brooks had 10 tackles, including three off scrambles by Vick, and also deflected a pass while rushing the quarterback.

“The key to stopping him (Vick) is everyone,” Brooks said. “We showed a lot about ourselves today. We’ve got something special, and we just have to keep at it.”

Tampa Bay recorded just two sacks, but had plenty of hurries and knocked Vick down numerous times.

“Their front four did a tremendous job of getting penetration and pressuring us, and that threw us out of our game plan a little bit,” Vick said. “Up front, teams in this league might have one or two good pass rushers. On this team you have four. Then you have three All-Pro linebackers.”

The Falcons were limited to a field goal before Vick hit tight end Alge Crumpler with a five-yard scoring play 3:20 into the fourth quarter.

“Sometimes, Mike could have made a quick throw instead of making something big out of it,” Falcons coach Dan Reeves said. “We’ll look at the film and try to learn from it. Hopefully, it will be a learning experience for him and he can look at this and learn from it.”

Meanwhile, Johnson, one of the league’s most accurate passers, completed 16-of-19 passes for 158 yards and three touchdowns in the first half when the Bucs built a 21-3 lead. He finished 23-of-31 for 276 yards.

“I don’t know what his (Johnson’s) touchdown to interception ratio is (22-6), but it’s as good as anybody I’ve been around,” Gruden said. “He’s doing a great job. He’s the strength right now of our offense.”

In his last five games, Johnson has thrown for 15 touchdowns and only one interception.

“The biggest strength of this team comes down to turnover ratio,” Johnson said. “When we turn the ball over, or special teams turns the ball over, we’re in trouble. When we win, we’re not turning the ball over.”

Jurevicius used his 6-foot-5 size effectively, tying a career high with eight catches for 100 yards, including touchdowns of 10 and 13 yards in the second quarter.

“I might not get the numbers that Keyshawn (Johnson) and Keenan (McCardell) get, but I think that I have something to contribute here,” Jurevicius said.

“They used their size (with Jurevicius) and Brad did a great job and has all year long of throwing the ball, throwing to spots, and using the ball control passing game,” Reeves said.

McCardell caught scoring passes of 14 and 27 yards and fullback Mike Alstott rushed for 95 yards on just 13 carries,

Atlanta failed to score on its first three possessions as Vick completed just 2-of-5 passes for seven yards and scrambled three times for only four yards.

After managing just one first down on their first two possessions, the Bucs put together a 10-play, 80-yard drive. Johnson completed all six of his passes for 55 yards and capped it with a 10-yard touchdown to Jurevicius with 11:12 left in the second quarter.

Tampa Bay’s defense recorded another three-and-out before coming up with the first turnover of the game. Vick fired a pass over the middle that went off receiver Brian Finneran, who was covered by cornerback Ronde Barber, and into the hands of safety Dexter Jackson, who returned the interception 21 yards to the Atlanta 10.

“He (Vick) tried to force it in there, and Ronde tipped it, and it was just about making it to the ball,” Jackson said.

Two plays later, Jurevius caught a 13-yard pass in the end zone over cornerback Ray Buchanan with 7:42 left in the half.

After five empty possessions, Vick engineered an 11-play, 48-yard drive, which featured a 20-yard pass to Crumpler, and resulted in a 30-yard field goal by Jay Feely with 2:02 remaining.

Johnson then put on a textbook two-minute drive, completing 4-of-4 passes for 74 yards and hitting McCardell on a slant for a 14-yard touchdown with 34 seconds left in the half.

“When they scored on the long drive in the two-minute drill, that was a big play for them to get a touchdown there,” Reeves said.

Martin Gramatica kicked field goals of 42 and 21 yards in the third quarter to increase the lead to 27-3.

Vick connected with Trevor Gaylor on a 47-yard pass to highlight an 86-yard scoring drive in the fourth quarter, capping it with the scoring pass to Crumpler.

But on Tampa Bay’s next possession, Alstott broke off a 32-yard run before McCardell caught a 27-yard TD with 8:31 left to complete the scoring.

The Falcons, who played without former Bucs running back Warrick Dunn, totaled just 181 yards and 10 first downs.

“They’re really good and they’re fast and they make a lot of plays,” said Falcons rookie T.J. Duckett, who rushed for 47 yards on 13 carries. “They are all over the field.”

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